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Constitutional Law: Fourth Amendment: When May a Police Officer's Perception of Certain Odors Provide a Sufficient Basis for Searches or Seizures Without Warrants

NCJ Number
New York Law School Law Review Volume: 32 Issue: 1 Dated: (1987) Pages: 137-168
N E Schwartz
Date Published
32 pages
This note holds that the groundwork has been laid for the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt the 'plain smell' analogy to the 'plain view' doctrine for warrantless searches.
In Johnson v. United States (1948), the U.S. Supreme Court held that odor alone could not justify a search without a warrant; however, many warrantless searches and seizures stemming from the perception of odors have been upheld. In some cases, the odor provided probable cause to arrest for possession of contraband which in turn provided justification for the search. The Fourth Circuit Court has analogized the emanation of odor to the sense of sight, so as to fall within the existing 'plain view' doctrine, which permits seizures, and possibly searches, without warrants. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has permitted warrantless seizures of items in 'plain view' and has recognized that the contents of containers which can be inferred from external indications also fall within 'plain view,' it has yet to adopt categorically the 'plain smell' analogy. Apparently, the Court favors moving in this direction. If adopted, the 'plain smell' rule will likely encourage more searches and seizures without warrants than a literal reading of 'Johnson' apparently allows. 240 footnotes.